Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

A Day In A Minute with the Pitt Peregrines

Today the Pitt peregrine chicks are 16 days old, fluffy white and weighing 1 to 1.5 pounds depending on sex. Male peregrines are always lightweight (about 1 pound at this age). Female peregrines are the heavy ones. We can’t weigh them visually so we don’t know their sexes.

You can’t see it on camera yet but the chicks’ flight feathers have just begun to emerge. It will be another four days before we’ll see the dark edges of their coming feathers. By then they’ll also have feathered faces.

Like all babies, these two spend their days eating and sleeping. In this Day In A Minute from Tuesday May 7 they have a very active moment at the front of the nest around 6pm.

The older they get the more active they’ll be. Watch them on the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh.

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

What Is Hope’s Legacy?

Terzo and Hope with 2 chicks, 3 eggs, 23 April 2019, 3:35pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Every year Hope, the mother peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, kills and eats some of her chicks as they are hatching. Among all the peregrine families on camera this behavior is quite abnormal.

This spring some of you wondered if Hope’s behavior would be passed down to her female offspring. The way to find out is to watch one of her daughters nesting on camera (the behavior cannot be seen otherwise).

Are any of her daughters nesting? Here’s the status of Hope’s fledged offspring:

  1. How many young has Hope fledged during her nesting years so far, 2010-2018? 10 fledglings: 4 at Tarentum Bridge plus 6 at Pitt.
  2. How many of her offspring are banded? 8. (We can only re-identify her young if they are banded.)
  3. Subtract known deaths. Of 8 banded offspring, 3 banded are known dead, 5 banded are presumed alive. (*)
  4. How many of the living are female? 3
  5. How many of her offspring have been reported nesting? NONE
  6. How many of her offspring have been seen anywhere since they left Pittsburgh? NONE

In Hope’s nine years of nesting (2010-2018), she has averaged only 1.1 fledgling per year. None of them has ever been seen again.

By contrast Dorothy, the previous female peregrine at Pitt, averaged 3.0 fledglings per year. (If you don’t count her three elderly unproductive years her average was 3.7.) At least 12 of Dorothy’s kids went on to nest in the Great Lakes region, many on camera. Dorothy has children, grandchildren, great-grands and probably great-great-grands by now. She was a matriarch.

What is Hope’s legacy? So far as we know, nothing. We do know that none of her banded daughters are nesting on camera.

p.s. Hope’s potential of fledglings/year is higher than Dorothy’s. Hope averages 4.25 eggs per year at Pitt; Dorothy averaged 3.93. Hope has fewer fledglings/year because half of her hatchlings do not survive the hatching period.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

(*) Living offspring: We will never know the fate of Hope’s 2 unbanded offspring because we cannot identify them. If they are both alive then Hope has 7 living offspring. Due to the 60% mortality rate among young peregrines, it is statistically likely that Hope has only 4 living offspring from 2010-2018, not 7.

.Details:  Hope: 10 fledgings/8 years = 1.1     Dorothy: 43 fledgings/14 years = 3.0 –or– 41 fledglings/11 years = 3.7

How The Nest Gets Messy

Have you noticed that the Pitt peregrines’ nest is messy now? Here’s how it happened.

This Day in a Minute video from Tuesday 30 April 2019 shows 12 hours of the Pitt peregrines’ activities in 60 seconds. If you watch carefully you’ll see:

  • The chicks were fed four times on Tuesday. You can count a feeding every time Hope has her back to the camera.
  • Hope and Terzo switched off at the nest. Both tried to brood the chicks who are almost too big to cover. Hope had the morning shift, Terzo the afternoon, except…
  • Heavy rain approached at 3pm, so Hope sheltered the chicks during and after the rain.
  • Right after the rain, Terzo delivered (off camera) a fully feathered black bird. Hope plucked it at the nest. Instant mess!

Yesterday the chicks were 8+ days old — too old to brood — so Hope and Terzo often leave them on their own and guard them nearby. You can’t see the Hope and Terzo guarding the chicks because they perch above or on top of the camera.

Watch the Pitt peregrines on the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh.

(video of snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

It’s Safe To Watch

Morning feeding at Pitt peregrine nest, 30 April 2019 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Sorry I’m late with this “All Clear” notice. I was out of cell range for several days, birding and looking for the Swainson’s warbler.

If you like to watch the peregrine falcon family on camera at the Cathedral of Learning you can do so now without fear that the mother peregrine, Hope, will eat her offspring.

Every year, on camera, Hope has killed and eaten some but not all of her young while they are hatching. Hope does not harm fluffy white chicks and she does not harm eggs that have not pipped. The only danger time is when the live chick inside the egg has pipped the shell and is hammering to open it. It takes the chick up to 72 hours to open the shell from pip to hatch. That period, and the wet-and-pink time just after hatching, are the most dangerous for Hope’s young.

It’s now evident the fifth egg will never hatch so it’s safe to watch the National Aviary falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning. Her two chicks are 8-9 days old today.

The coast is clear.

p.s. This year’s chicks are C11 and C12.

(photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope Eats Egg #4

Hope opens and eats Egg/Chick #4, 27 April 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Around 6:30am this morning, 27 April 2019, Hope picked up Egg #4, moved it away from the nest, opened it, ate some of the contents, and fed the rest to her living chicks.

The chick inside the egg appears to have been fully formed.

We await the fate of Egg/Chick #5. Meanwhile …

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Sad But Not Surprised

Hope has killed Chick #3, 24 April 2019, 5:53pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday evening Hope, the mother peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, killed and ate one of her chicks as it was hatching (see details at Bad News Again, Hope Kills Chick 3). Those of us who watch her year after year are sad but not surprised.

This is the fourth year Hope has nested on camera. It’s the fourth year we have seen her kill and eat some of her young. It’s the fourth year I have written about her abnormal behavior.

I cannot stress enough that Hope’s behavior is not normal for peregrines or any bird of prey. Here’s what I’ve written about it in prior years. It still applies.

Why does Hope kill and eat her young?

We don’t know.  This is such a rare occurrence that there’s no guidance from other peregrine nests — they just don’t do this.  Meanwhile every idea we come up with is a guess.  I prefer not to wade into the guessing.

Unusual behaviors:

Yes, Hope kills and eats her chicks but there are two unusual habits that accompany it:

  • Hope opens the egg.  The hatching rule for all birds is this: Chicks must open the eggs themselves. At other peregrine falconcams, notice that the mother watches but does not touch the shell until the chick has forced open the two halves.  Later the mother eats the shell (which is normal). Raptors beaks are sharp and could damage the chick. Normal mother raptors do not use their beaks on the eggs.
  • Hope picks up and carries the chick.  Normal peregrines don’t pick up their hatchlings. When a chick is accidentally outside the scrape (nest bowl) the mother uses the underside of her closed beak to pull the chick back to her.  Hope uses her closed beak to arrange the eggs but she breaks that rule when they hatch.

Why doesn’t Terzo stay at the nest and prevent this from happening?

The rule at peregrine nests is that the mother bird is totally in charge, especially at hatching time.  She calls the shots, including the timing of the first feeding. The father bird defers to her.

The father bird may communicate that he wants something to be different but it’s her decision.  When Hope tells Terzo, “It’s my turn to be on the nest!” he has to leave.

What next?

We don’t know what Hope will do with the last two eggs but we do know that when hatching is over she’s a good mother. At that point it will be safe to watch again. Meanwhile, these cautions apply.

A Caution to Viewers: Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

A Caution to Commenters: If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.  So … If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

I’ll keep you posted and let you know when the coast is clear.

Bad News Again, Hope Kills Chick 3

  • Terzo was incubating when Hope arrives at the nest, 24 April 2019, 5:22pm

Hope, the mother peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, has done what we prayed she would not do. This evening she opened Egg #3 as it was hatching, then killed and ate the chick inside.

The slideshow above spans more than half an hour. Here’s a summary of what happened.

  • 5:22pm  Terzo was on the nest. Hope returned, got close to the eggs and opened egg #3, which was close to hatching. She doesn’t harm the chick at that point. Terzo watches her intently.
  • Hope and Terzo stare at each other. Eventually Terzo turns away and leaves.
  • Hope broods on the nest for about half an hour
  • 5:51pm: Hope looks up, leaves the nest.
  • She returns and thinks for a bit.
  • Then she goes to the nest, pulls Chick #3 away from nest, kills it and begins to eat it.
  • Chick #3 is now food so she carries it to the other chicks and feeds them.

Keep in mind that Hope’s behavior is abnormal. We don’t know why she does this. No one knows why. I won’t even speculate. We do know that she does it every year.

There are two eggs to go, so …

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

First Feeding, April 22

  • Hope sees Terzo bringing food

While we wait to find out if another peregrine chick has hatched overnight at the Cathedral of Learning …

This year’s first chick was fed yesterday afternoon, but his mother’s back blocked the streaming camera so you probably couldn’t see it. Here’s a slideshow from the National Aviary’s snapshot camera.

p.s. The snapshot camera is at this link. It shows the current still photo.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

First Egg Hatches at Pitt

First nestling at Cathedral of Learning, 2019 (screenshot from the National Aviary falcon cam)

Hooray! The first egg hatched at the Cathedral of Learning this morning, April 22, at about 9:32a. (And his mother, Hope, did not harm him!)

HAPPY UPDATE, later the same day:

The first chick hatched successfully and was not harmed. The slideshow below shows the hatchling and his parents on Monday 22 April 2019 from 9:32 to 9:42 am. Here’s a summary of the action:

  • Terzo (father bird) is on the nest at the moment the chick is first visible at 9:32am
  • Hope (mother bird) arrives at 9:38:07 to trade places with Terzo.
  • Hope carries the chick away from the scrape at 9:38:45. She does not harm it. She carries it back to the nest. (This was the only dangerous moment.)
  • Hope prepares to brood the chick at 9:41:56. We can see that the chick is fine.
  • Hope settles on the nest at 9:42:35. The coast is clear for this chick.
  • Terzo looks at the first Pitt peregrine hatchling, 22 April 2019, 9:32am

When Terzo arrives to trade places with Hope at 12:45pm, we can see the chick standing up, white and fluffy, in the slideshow below.

  • Hope sleeps while brooding the chick and incubating the eggs, 22 April 2019, 12:42:53

The first chick hatched without incident. We know from three years’ experience that Hope only kills a chick when it first hatches. Once she begins to brood it, the chick is safe.

There are four more eggs to go, so keep in mind …

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

I’ll keep you posted.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)